Filippo DeStefano

from the HERALD STAR

A dulcet voice leaves the world
By Warren Scott, Staff writer

A Follansbee native and 1947 graduate of Catholic Central High School whose love of opera took him to many places, often to share his love of the art form with students, has died.

Filippo DeStefano, who had leading tenor roles in operas staged throughout the U.S., Europe and South America and appeared with Robert Redford in "The Great Gatsby," died Dec. 7, after reportedly suffering a stroke, in New York City, where he and his wife, Judith,
also an opera singer, had formed their own opera company,
DeStefano Presents Inc.

Through the company, DeStefano staged many operatic productions in New York, capping a distinguished career that included leading roles in operas presented in Italy, Israel, New York, Miami, Connecticut, Seattle, New Jersey, and Nebraska.

His desire to aid young opera singers and promote the art form to general audiences led him to stage productions in Venezuela, New York's Donnell Library Center and Merkin Concert Hall and, in recent years, Steubenville High School.

Geno Morelli of Cross Creek Township, a long-time friend, recalled DeStefano recruiting him and several others, including the Center of Music and Art in Wintersville and Ferrson Community College, to aid him in organizing productions of "Madame Butterfly" and "La Bohème" in 2003 and 2004, respectively.

"He said he wanted to give back to the community." Morelli said, adding, "He was a leader and a nice fellow."

Carolyn Glaub, owner of the Center of Music and Art, said DeStefano recruited many distinguished opera singers to appear in the productions, alongside area adults and teens who were taught the finer points of opera, including singing in Italian.

"The productions were very expensive and he paid for a lot of it out of his own pocket," Glaub said.

But despite the financial investment and hard work, DeStefano remained committed to the productions, which had been a longtime dream for him.

"He loved opera so much but, more than that, he loved the Ohio Valley and had always dreamed of coming back and presenting an opera here," Glaub said.

"He was quite excited about the kids and adults working together," she added.

The success of the productions led to the formation of the Upper Ohio Valley Opera Guild, a local group that has held various fund-raisers to raise money for a third production.

DeStefano was one of eight children of Petro and Olga DeStefano, Italian immigrants who came to Follansbee and opened DeStefano's Spaghetti House.

Filippo recalled, in an interview for the Herald-Star in 2004, becoming interested in opera at age 8 when he heard the singing of Jan Peerce,
a famed Jewish-American tenor.

Fanny Cesta of Wintersville, DeStefano's sister, said John Mussio, then Bishop of the Steubenville Catholic Diocese, encouraged her older brother to pursue his interest in singing.

She recalled the Bishop holding a concert at his home to showcase the young DeStefano's talents and accompanying her brother on piano.

DeStefano also acted and sang in school.

But DeStefano's life might have taken a different turn, had another childhood interest prevailed.

Morelli said DeStefano was very interested in sports as a teen and played football for St. Anthony School and later Catholic Central High School.

He also played baseball I leagues run by the Follansbee American Legion Post, Follansbee Moose Lodge and others.

Morelli said after serving in the Korean War, DeStefano and Morelli's brother, Clyde, went to Florida to pursue careers in the professional baseball.

While there, DeStefano tried out for the Boston Red Sox and New York Giants but ended up playing for a team formed by Eastern Airlines.

Morelli said DeStefano was working at a glass-cutting business in Miami owned by Steubenville natives Reno Dallas and Edward Biggio when a customer, Irma McDaniel, a voice instructor, heard him singing and encouraged him to study with her.

DeStefano credited McDaniel for giving him his start, and soon after meeting her, he was performing in the Miami area. After continuing his studies through the Miami Opera Guild, he received a scholarship from the Guild to study in Milan, Italy, for five years.

While in Italy, DeStefano performed in more than 40 cities throughout the country and met his wife, Judith.

After returning to the U.S. in 1965, he received acclaimed as the lead in the New York City Opera's production of "Faust" in 1973.

George Creegan of Steubenville, a friend and past president of the Upper Ohio Valley Opera Guild, said DeStefano had been an outstanding artist and shared his love of opera and expertise with many students in the U.S. and abroad.

"We will miss him and I'm sure the opera guild will do something to honor him," Creegan said.

Bill DiMichele of Wintersville, DeStefano's nephew, said many of his uncle's students were on hand for a funeral mass held at Blessed Sacrament Catholic in Manhattan Tuesday.

DiMichele recalled his uncle returning home to sing for weddings, funerals and other specials occasions.

DeStefano, who had been an Army staff sergeant in the Korean War, was buried with military honors at a Long Island cemetery.

DiMichele said a memorial mass is scheduled for January 13 at Holy Family Catholic Church.